COMPARATIVE NATIONAL CULTURES
13 November 1957
Member of the Faculty, ICAF
School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University.
Publication No. L58-54
INDUSTRIAL COLLEGE OF THE ARMED FORCES
Washington, D. C.
Demographers frequently divide changes in population into four successive stages
which they call the demographic cycle. And those authorities in population here
will bear with me if I simplify too much. The first stage is stage A. It has
four characteristics - - a high birth rate; a high death rate; as a result of
stable population, in which the population numbers remain approximately the
same; and in that population numbers remain approximately the same; and in that
population an age distribution in which there are many people who are young. In
fact, half of the population would be perhaps considerably less than 18 years of
age. Now, the high birth rate means that you have many being born, but the high
death rate means that at least a fifth of them, possibly a third of them, die in
the first 2 years of their life. That means, of course, that those who survive
are a pretty rugged bunch. They have met all the germs, or almost all the germs,
and conquered them; and they may live to a ripe old age. That, we call stage A.
Now, what happens is, apparently, that something in the society leads to a
falling death rate. In most societies, as we look back over history, the falling
death rate was caused originally, it would seem, by an increased output of food,
conquering the problem of malnutrition. But at the same time the increased
output of food allows more devotion to sanitation and health, more research in
medicine, more thought about these matters, and so forth. Thus you begin to
conquer the death rate for other reasons than the overcoming of malnutrition,
namely, by the overcoming of diseases. Thus you get a falling death rate while
the birth rate is still high, which will give you obviously a rising number of
people, the third characteristic.
In that stage B you will have many people in the prime of life. By "many" I mean
at least half of the population. A society which is in stage B is a society
which, demographically speaking, is at its most healthy and most vigorous and
most powerful stage, because many men, the majority of men, are in their
productive years, and the majority of women are in their fertile years.
Therefore you have a society which can remedy disasters to population, which can
remedy disasters in production, by more activity of women, more activity of men,
and more activity of the two together. Now, that system, stage B, is followed by
stage C, in which the birth rate begins to fall, the death rate remains low, and
as a result you begin once again to approach a stable population, in which the
population in numbers is not drastically increasing any more; the rate of
increase is slowing up.
In that society you will have many middle-aged people. I am ashamed of myself
for calling people over 30 middle-aged, particularly as last Saturday I had my
47th birthday myself, which makes me, you see, well over middle age. But what I
mean here is that in this stage C, with a falling birth rate, low death rate,
and stable numbers, you have at least half of your population over the age of 30
and possibly even over the age of 35.
Now, these three stages, A, B, and C, are based largely upon observation of what
has happened. Stage D is hypothetical, because I don't know of any culture where
we can say for sure that stage D has happened. But it would seem that if you had
A, B, and C and the process continues, you will reach D. In D you would have
many old people, because of the decline in the death rate, perhaps half the
population over 45 years of age, you are going to have a low birth rate, but you
are also going to have a rising death rate, because where we have conquered the
diseases of youth, we have not yet conquered the diseases of old age, such as
cardiac disease, cancer, and other diseases associated with old age. Thus in
stage D you will get a situation where the population presumably would be
falling. In our Western civilization this cycle has been experienced, at least
through the first three stages, and we will presume that the fourth is about due
to come up, if it hasn't already begun to knock at the door. In table 3, the
letters A, B, C, and D refer to the four stages of the demographic cycle. The
table shows which stage would be found at the dates listed on the left in the
four geographic areas mentioned at the top.
From the table it is clear that the demographic cycle is not simultaneous
everywhere. On the contrary, it began in Western Europe and has spread outward
to other areas. As you can see all four areas that I have here--three in Europe
and one in Asia--by "Asia" meaning the buffer fringe - -all four areas were
presumably in stage A in the year 1700. But Western Europe came out of it and
got into stage B, passed into C, and I suppose that by the year 2000 will be in
D. Central Europe is a little bit later in the phases. So they don't get to
stage B until 1850 and they don't get to stage C until 1950, and so forth. They
were a little bit late. Eastern Europe is even later.
For example, in 1938 in Bulgaria the death rate of infant mortality in the first
year of life, was over 20 percent--something which would be regarded as
absolutely unacceptable in Western Europe or central Europe in the year 1938.
And thus we have that in Eastern Europe the cycle appears a little later, so
that by the year 2000 they are still presumably in C. But in the buffer fringe,
in Ceylon, India, and areas such as that, we find that the whole cycle is
considerably later, so that by the end of this century they would still be in
stage B. Now, stage B, I call the demographic explosion.
To indicate the demographic explosion I have a dotted line in table 3, page 17,
which we might call the explosive line. It gets later and later as we move
further away from Western Europe. And as a result population pressure occurs
later as we go outward from Western Europe. So we have an Anglo-French pressure
spreading outward about 1850. We have a Germanic-Italian pressure in central
Europe about the beginning of this century and continuing into the 20th century.
We have a Slavic pressure at the present time. And the presumption, I imagine,
would be that in 50 or more years from now we will have an Asiatic pressure.
Thus the pressure moves outward. All right. That is what I call the demographic
Now, to get back to table 1, page 3, the last point in the development of our
Western experience has been this revolution in transportation and communication.
You are perfectly familiar with it. About 1750 or so we got canals and
stagecoaches and turnpikes, macadamized roads, where Mr. Macadam told us how to
make a road. And then going on, about 1830 we got the steam engine and about
1900 we got automobiles and then airplanes and all the rest of it. I will not
have to go into those. It's perfectly obvious. The telegraph came in with the
railroads. Electronic communications came along with the airplane, and so forth.
Let's now look at the buffer fringe.
When you turn to the buffer fringe, the order in which things happened is
entirely different. Where this order (Western World) was almost the way you
would have desired it if you had planned it, nothing could be more disastrous
than this order (buffer fringe). Once again in the buffer fringe let me start
with the situation before Western civilization came in contact with it. In
Western civilization at the beginning you had the self- sufficient manor,
isolated. In Asia you did not have that. In Asia you had a peasant society in
which there was superimposed upon the peasant a very large ruling group, which I
frequently call "the quartet, " made up of government officials and their
bureaucracies, military personnel--armies--bankers and financiers, and, lastly,
landlords. And this group of the ruling class cooperated together. They
cooperated together to exploit those who were producing food.
Furthermore, the system by which food was being produced here was a system,
especially in China, that put tremendous pressure on the soil, and it didn't
possess that reserve which at the beginning of our system was to be found in the
fallow year. At the beginning of our system one-third of the land was always
untilled under the fallow system. But in the buffer fringe, particularly in
China, the land is tilled generally every year. Instead of trying to replace the
nutritive elements in the soil by a fallow or even by a leguminous crop, which
they do to some extent, they replace the nutritive elements in the soil with
human excrement spread upon the ground. But this puts them to the margin where
to make their agricultural system produce more requires a major revolutionary
But they didn't get that. Instead, they got Western weapons, because when we
came in, we came in with weapons and it was because of weapons that we were able
to come in. We said to China: "We wish to come in." For 50 or 60 or more years
they said "No. " Finally the British in the opium wars of 1842 and in other
struggles crashed open the door to China with our weapons. When Perry went to
Japan, just a little over a century ago, he appeared there with black ships and
with guns; and the Japanese, although they did not wish to do so, were forced to
open their doors.
Now, seeing that, the upper ruling groups wanted our weapons. They began to buy
our weapons. But the weapons which we gave them, even when they became what I
call amateur weapons to us, were really specialist weapons to them, because a
rifle or a revolver, which in 1880 was cheap in America, was still too expensive
for a peasant in most of Asia. He didn't have the margin. On the other hand, the
government could buy it. So the first event which occurred there intensified the
authoritarian character of their society. Furthermore, it intensified the
ability of the ruling group to exploit and take from the peasant larger
fractions of what he was producing. Bankers were offering credit to peasants,
very reluctantly, at 40 percent interest per year. The tax collectors were
demanding more and more from the peasant because of the weapons which they
wished to buy, and so forth.
Now, in this system the peasants still managed to survive until the commercial
crisis came along, which destroyed their ability to survive. This is a very
difficult problem. Let me try to explain it. The ruling group in Asia,
particularly in eastern Asia, but above all in China, were taking from the
peasant at the end of the 19th century so much of what the peasant produced that
there wasn't enough left for him for subsistence. In other words, he was forced
below the subsistence level by the contributions he had to make to the ruling
quartet. How did he manage to survive? Because obviously he did. He managed to
survive by handicraft. In their system agricultural peasantry were idle much of
the year. They had two seasons of the year when they were very busy, but for
about 5 months or even 6 months of the year they were largely idle. We call this
"agrarian underemployment, " which is still very noticeable in the buffer
Now, in this period of so much underemployment the peasants made basketry out of
the withes, hats out of straw, leatherwork, and various other things; and these
things they sold to the cities, to the ruling group. And in return they got
credit back on the food that they had to give to this group. Thus the peasants
were able at the end of the 19th century to bring themselves above the
subsistence level by selling handicraft products to the cities. This was
destroyed when Europe came into Asia with mass-production industrial goods,
which the ruling class preferred to the peasant handicraft products that they
had been buying. Apparently the ruling group, while still demanding the same
amount and even more from the peasantry, now ceased to buy the craft products of
the peasantry and, instead, were buying the products of the industrial cities of
Europe. And this put the peasantry below the subsistence level.
What did they do about it? Not a thing, because the ruling group had the
weapons. But then something happened. The pressure of our system upon Asia
gradually impelled the ruling group to arm their peasantry. Above all, the fact
that Japan adopted our system fairly successfully meant that if Japan were going
to be stopped in exploiting the rest of the buffer fringe, she must be resisted
with mass armies. Mass armies could be obtained only if the ruling group armed
their own peasantry. But once they armed their own peasantry, then they couldn't
keep them down below the subsistence level. It was this which destroyed the
ruling group--that they armed the peasantry to resist Japan, and their peasants
used this weapon against the ruling group. This is really the key to what has
happened in China in the last 60 years, and is threatening in other areas.
Now, the commercial crisis , which I have carried down to a much later date, was
followed by the transportation revolution. One of the first things that Asia
began to demand was railroads and telegraphs. By 1880 they were building
railroads and telegraph systems. One other thing I should point out. The
commercial crisis was made much more intense in all of Asia by the fact that
when Westerners came in with guns, they made the native governments sign
agreements not to raise their import tariff over 5 percent and in one case 8
percent. Japan didn't get free from that tariff until the 20th century.
In China and in the Ottoman Empire they didn't get rid of it until well in the
20th century. And this 5 percent tariff made it impossible for them to keep
European industrial goods out and preserve the handicraft of their own
peasantry. Well, now, the transportation and communication revolution requires
capital. Where are they going to get it? There is no development ahead of it
which would provide it. It requires labor. Where are they going to get that?
Their economic system, their agricultural system, is already producing hardly
enough. Well, the way they got these skilled technologists, where they got these
inventions, where they got the capital was, of course, from Europe, generally by
borrowing it and building railroads and so forth. But they were not paying for
The next thing which occurred is sanitation and medicine. I must say this good
word for the British: When the British went into China, went into India, or
wherever they went, they did not at once try to clean the place up. That was a
good thing. When Americans go in, we start DDT-ing and delousing everyone in
sight. We do it to protect our own people; but by doing it we are reducing the
death rate in those areas and thus we are forcing them into the demographic
revolution before they have the food to sustain it. So the sanitation and
medical revolutions arrive. Then comes the demographic revolution. That is
followed by their attempts to industrialize. They feel they must industrialize
to resist the pressure of the West, to resist the pressure of their own areas
which have industrialized , like Japan, or perhaps even to resist the pressure
of the bloc that we're not talking about today, the Soviet bloc. And if they are
going to industrialize, again, how can they do it?
One way it can be done is by borrowing from Europe, which is now no longer
feasible and becomes less and less feasible. Furthermore, it represents a
continuation, an increase, of colonialism, and they wish to get away from
colonialism. Instead, they wish, if possible, to avoid borrowing. So the way in
which it must be done, it would seem, would be to squeeze more out of their own
peasantry. That is exactly what is being done in Soviet Russia. Soviet Russia is
industrializing by increasing the pressure on their own peasantry when they
really haven't got the agricultural revolution.
Now, to this point I have been describing what has happened. In Asia, in the
buffer fringe, and in the Soviet bloc as well, they have not yet got seven and
they have not yet got eight and I doubt very much if they will ever get eight.
But the whole thing creates a tremendously dangerous situation. And before I
stop, as I reach the end of my time, I would like to point out this:
When I speak of the agricultural revolution in Asia, what can they do? Well,
they could adopt the second stage in our agricultural revolution, that is, the
leguminous-rotation system, which would be a big help. But they probably cannot
adopt the American stages which should go right along with that--the farm
machinery stage, the fertilizer and chemical stages, and the gasoline power
stage--because these things are much too expensive for them and represent buying
things, such as chemicals, gasoline, and so forth, which they don't have. Notice
a very drastic difference between American agriculture and European agriculture.
To put it briefly, it is this: In Europe they have a limited supply of land and
in Asia they have a limited supply of land and a surplus of labor. In America we
have always historically had a plentiful supply of land and a lack of labor.
Therefore our agricultural development has worked toward increasing the output
per man-hour. In Europe and in Asia they must work in the direction of increased
output per acre or per unit of ground.
These are absolutely antithetical things, it seems to me. Our output per acre is
notoriously poor compared, for instance, to Europe's; but our output per
man-hour is fantastically high. Therefore for us to go to the people of Asia and
say: "You need the agricultural revolution-- that means you need tractors, you
need DDT, you need chemical fertilizers. All of these things is offering them
something which they do not need or want. What they need are much simpler
things, and I will end up with a story which illustrates it.
An American from our State Department, I believe, went to Afghanistan to work on
some kind of a farm program. Since he had come from Iowa and knew good farming
when he saw it, good American farming, he was utterly horrified at the Afghan
farming, because it was so poor. So he wrote back to America and he wanted
certain things, notably hoes.
He couldn't get hoes. The answer came: "We have no hoes, but we have lots of
tractors." But tractors to these people are worthless. So he wrote to his 4-H
Club in Iowa and said, "I need hoes. " They got 300 of them together and shipped
them to him. In his own little garden he increased output per unit of ground so
fantastically that all of the neighbors began to say, "How do you do this?" He
said, "Simply with a hoe. "
In Europe you could increase output simply by plowing 6 inches deeper, because
in most of Europe they plough only the upper few inches. That is exhausted, but
down a few few inches further is fertile soil which hasn't been used for
All right. We'll stop now. I have gone over my time.
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